Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 16

  She laughed, too, blushing very becomingly. “What happened once you reached my father’s court?”

  “I was welcomed as a king ought to be. Louis made me a new great seal and I was given lavish quarters in his Paris palace, and as soon as word spread of my arrival, the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne traveled to the French court to meet with me, as did the Count of Blois and—” Hal broke off, sat upright on the settle, and glanced over at Eleanor, blue eyes bright with excitement. “But first I must tell you, Maman. I was knighted in Paris!”

  It was impossible not to share in his joy, and he was immediately inundated with praise; even Richard bestirred himself to offer a laconic congratulations. After a moment to reflect, Raoul began to laugh. “Well, it was not the way he’d expected it, but Harry got his wish. Hal was knighted by the French king!”

  Hal looked over at Raoul and shook his head. “I was not knighted by the French king.” That drew all their attention, as he’d hoped, and he paused to heighten the suspense. “I asked the most worthy, honorable man I know to confer knighthood upon me. I asked Will Marshal.”

  There were exclamations of surprise and astonishment, for they did not see why Hal would have chosen a mere knight to perform such a significant ceremony when he could have had it done by a king. Only Eleanor understood and, crossing the solar, she leaned over and kissed her eldest son on the cheek. “That was a very generous gesture, Hal. I am sure Will was greatly honored by it.”

  Hal separated from his wife long enough to rise to his feet and give his mother an exuberant hug. “I had trouble convincing him that I was serious, but once I had, he was overwhelmed.”

  “Loyalty like his should be rewarded,” she said approvingly. “It does not hurt to let the world know, too, that you value fidelity. A great lord is expected to show great generosity to his vassals and knights. It makes others all the more eager to serve you.”

  “I suppose,” he said vaguely, for the truth was that he’d not considered the political ramifications of his choice. It had been an impulsive act, a way to honor a man he greatly respected, the embodiment of knightly chivalry. Sitting down again beside Marguerite, he smiled up at his mother. “I know it was not easy for Will to defy my father. I am sure he had misgivings, and I think he overcame those misgivings because of you, Maman.”

  “Me? What do you mean, Hal?”

  “Once we were safely in French territory, naturally we wanted to celebrate. We celebrated so much, in fact, that the next morn I felt as if the bells of Notre Dame were going off inside my head. Even Will drank enough to loosen his tongue. He started to talk about you, Maman, about how he owed you his very life, about what a great queen you were and what an honor it had been to serve you whilst he was one of your household knights.” He grinned. “He sounded smitten, if truth be told!”

  Eleanor was pleased, but Marguerite looked puzzled. “What did he mean about owing her his life?”

  Hal slid his arm around her waist, quite happy to enlighten her. “It happened five years ago in Poitou, darling. My mother was ambushed by the de Lusignans. To save her from capture, Will and his uncle, the Earl of Salisbury, fought like demons. She got away safely, thank God, but the earl was slain and Will was wounded and taken prisoner. Will had no money for the ransom, although he lied and pretended that he had kin willing to pay it. He knew sooner or later they’d find out the truth, but he was desperate to buy as much time as he could. Then—as he described it—the miracle happened. His captors announced that his ransom had been paid by the queen and set him free. When he returned to Poitiers, grateful beyond words, my mother not only gave him a position in her household, but she provided him with a destrier and chain mail, thus winning his heart for all eternity!”

  Marguerite was regarding Eleanor with wide, admiring eyes. She’d been astonished by some of Hal’s stories about his mother—that she’d gone on crusade with Louis and their caravan had been attacked by Saracens, that her ship had been captured by pirates in the pay of the Byzantine Emperor, only to be rescued in the nick of time by the King of Sicily’s fleet—but this one sounded as if it came straight from a minstrel’s tale. “You have led the most remarkable life,” she blurted out, “like Iseult or Guinevere!”

  Both of those legendary queens had also been faithless wives, but Eleanor knew that her daughter-in-law’s insult was an innocent one, and she smiled at the girl before turning back to Hal. “You mentioned a number of highborn lords. Have they fully committed themselves to our rebellion?”

  “Indeed they have, all of them! It was very easy to come to terms with them, Maman. I promised the Count of Blois two hundred pounds a year and the castle of Amboise. The Count of Flanders shall have the county of Kent, a thousand pounds a year, and the castles at Dover and Rochester, and his brother, the Count of Boulogne, shall have the county of Mortain in Normandy and the Honour of Hay in Wales. Best of all, Louis thinks that the King of Scotland will also commit to our cause in return for Northumbria and the earldoms of Huntingdon and Cambridge for his brother. We can count, too, upon Raoul de Fougères and most of the Breton barons, and in England, the Earls of Chester, Leicester, Norfolk, and Derby. Not to forget your lords in Poitou, Maman. Has there ever been such a redoubtable alliance? Not since all those Greek kings sailed for Troy!”

  At least he’d retained some of his tutor’s lessons, Eleanor thought, but she was appalled by his blithe admission that he’d given away so much of his inheritance. The others were staring at him with the same amazement; only Marguerite seemed untroubled by Hal’s shortsighted, misguided mistake. From the corner of her eye, Eleanor caught a glimpse of her second son. Richard’s lip had curled, his disdain so obvious that she knew he was about to pounce, and that would only make matters worse. Moving quickly to forestall him, she said, “Hal, as gladdened as I am by your visit, I am somewhat surprised by it, too. I know you avoided your father’s domains, but even so, the danger was great. He’d pay handsomely to get you back in his control, and our world is full of men who’d betray their own mothers for a handful of deniers. Why did you take such a risk?”

  The risk had been part of the appeal, but Hal knew better than to confess to that to his mother. “I came,” he said, “to bring my brothers back with me to Paris.”

  HAL AND MARGUERITE had been the first to withdraw; after yawning and complaining, very unconvincingly, that he was exhausted from his journey, he’d gone off to Marguerite’s bedchamber, their laughter giving the lie to his professed intent to sleep. Richard and Geoffrey were the next to go, eager to start packing. Alone in the solar with her uncles and her constable, Eleanor sat down wearily on the nearest seat, an uncomfortable coffer chest. “You need not say it, Raoul,” she warned. “Hal has made a grievous mistake. I know that all too well.”

  “A pity Hal does not,” Raoul observed, but without heat. He was not heartbroken that his grandnephew should be disposing of his lands with such careless abandon, and as his eyes met his brother’s, he saw that Hugh agreed with him. Aquitaine could only benefit by it. Richard had been quick to see that, too, saying scornfully before he departed that Hal could slice England up six different ways from Sunday as long as Aquitaine remained intact. “We have to look upon the bright side,” Raoul continued. “Yes, Hal is pledging to give away most of his inheritance ere he even comes into it. But when Harry hears of this, he is like to have an apoplectic fit and that would solve our troubles rather neatly.”

  Eleanor raised her head, and there was nothing of the niece in the look she gave him. “You have said enough,” she said, and Raoul knew better than to argue, not when she sounded like that. He excused himself, and Hugh soon followed.

  “Madame.” When Eleanor turned toward him, Saldebreuil rose and limped over to her. “This does not bode well for a quick resolution of the rebellion. Your lord husband will never agree to honor your son’s promises, and Hal’s new allies will not be willing to make peace unless he does. Do you think you can talk sense into the lad, make him see that he’s blu
ndered into a den of thieves?”

  Eleanor appreciated his candor, the bluntness of an old soldier who knew his days were dwindling, freeing him to speak his mind. “It is too late for that. He has already struck these Devil’s deals and cannot repudiate them…at least not until he wins,” she added, with a queen’s cynical understanding of statecraft. “Damn Louis for this! The rest of them are no better than wolves on the prowl. But Hal is wed to Louis’s daughter, and he owed him better than this.”

  Saldebreuil thought that Eleanor’s analogy was an apt one, for Hal was indeed a lamb let loose amongst wolves. Thankful that their young duke was not as trusting as his elder brother, he sat down again, for his bones were beginning to ache. “What will you do, my lady? If you send Richard and Geoffrey to Paris, there will be no turning back.”

  “I know,” she said. “But you saw the looks on their faces. They’d set out tonight if it were up to them. How could I tell them not to go? I cannot do what Harry has done, treat them like feckless, flighty children. Richard would never accept that, and Geoffrey is already very jealous. If he were not permitted to go to Paris, too, he’d never forgive Richard.”

  Events were taking on a momentum of their own and choices were being made for her, much to her dismay. If only she did not have to rely upon Louis. If only she could take command of this ill-assorted coalition. But men like Philip of Flanders were not likely to pay heed to a woman. And for a moment, she could hear echoes of Maud’s tart-tongued reminder that she could not take the field herself.

  Looking up, she saw that Saldebreuil was watching her with the protective concern allowed an old and devoted retainer, and she mustered up a smile for his benefit, before saying grimly, “Raoul was right when he said that whether we are ready or not, the hunt is on. Hal’s rebellion has become a war, and it is a war we must win.”


  April 1173

  Rouen, Normandy

  HENRY HELD HIS Easter Court that April at Alençon. It was one of the most miserable times of his life. His rage still smoldered, yet the object of his anger was well out of reach, being lauded at the French court. He sent Archbishop Rotrou to Paris to fetch his son, but he did not have any hopes of success. He was still waiting, too, to hear from Eleanor. He’d dispatched an urgent message, instructing her to use her influence with Hal, but he’d not yet gotten a response from her. Not that he expected she’d have any luck in bringing Hal to his senses. The youth who’d betrayed him so cruelly and then fled to his enemy’s embrace was a stranger to him. It was almost enough to make him believe in changelings. And since nothing in his life seemed to be going right anymore, he was not at all surprised to get a communication from Rome informing him that on February 21 the Pope had canonized Thomas Becket as a saint.

  AFTER EASTER, Henry moved on to Rouen and had Rosamund Clifford summoned from Falaise. He took little pleasure in her presence, though, for his world was out of kilter. The archbishop had not yet returned from Paris, nor had there been word from his queen. He lay awake at night, dwelling morbidly upon the events at Chinon, blaming himself for allowing Hal to delude him like that and vowing it would never happen again. Hunting offered a respite from the bleak landscape of his own thoughts, but incessant rains often robbed him of even that brief reprieve. The only happiness he had that April came with the unexpected arrival from England of his natural son, Geoff, who’d raced for Southampton and took ship for Normandy as soon as he’d gotten word of Hal’s defection.

  Geoff was the oldest of his children, having turned twenty that past December. He’d been raised in Henry’s household, treated since infancy as the king’s son, and Henry was determined that his out-of-wedlock birth would not besmirch his prospects. His grandfather had done right by his numerous illegitimate children, and Henry meant to do no less for Geoff. Intending a career in the Church for the boy, he’d put Geoff into deacon’s orders at an early age and bestowed upon him the archdeaconry of Lincoln, but he had even grander plans in mind for Geoff, and was very pleased that he’d now be able to share them in person with his son.

  The day after Geoff reached Rouen, the weather cleared and Henry seized the opportunity to spend the afternoon in the forest of Roumare west of the city. The season for hart would not begin until the summer, but roebucks could be hunted in the spring, and Henry was eager to try his new pack of running hounds, the best of the breed known as chien bauts. Returning at dusk with enough venison to feed a hundred of Christ’s Poor, he was weary and muddied and more relaxed than he’d been in many weeks.

  Geoff deserved much of the credit for his change in mood, for his son was as passionate about the hunt as he was, and just as competitive. They were still squabbling playfully about which of them had brought down the last buck as they entered the city gates and headed toward the ancient ducal castle on the south bank of the River Seine.

  “I know it was my arrow,” Geoff was insisting, turning in the saddle to ask the Earl of Essex for confirmation of his claim. “You saw the kill, Willem. Tell my father whose arrow brought it down!”

  When Willem grinned and muddied the waters by suggesting it might well have been his, Geoff gave a hoot of derision, loud enough to startle his stallion, which shied suddenly and almost unseated its young rider, much to Henry and Willem’s amusement. Geoff was a skilled horseman and soon got his mount under control. He was usually thin-skinned about being laughed at, for like many born on the wrong side of the blanket, he was very sensitive to slights. But he was so pleased to see his father laughing that this was one time when he was quite content to be the butt of their humor. If he’d thought it would cheer Henry’s spirits, he’d willingly have been tossed head over heels into the Seine.

  Upon their arrival at the castle, Henry ordered the deer carcasses to be turned over to his almoner, saving only a few haunches for their table that evening. He then took Geoff and Willem to the kennels to show them a litter recently whelped by Lerre, his favorite lymer bitch, and the King of England and his son were soon down on their knees, romping with Lerre’s puppies.

  Rising reluctantly, Henry brushed straw from his tunic and bent over to give the mother dog a fond farewell pat. He lingered, though, in the kennels, for he wanted a private moment with Geoff. “I needed a day like this, for it has been a wearisome week. The Pope has been complaining that I have left six English bishoprics vacant for far too long, and since I am now back on good terms with the Church, I felt obliged to address his concerns. So I’ve been mulling over candidates, hope to have the selections made by month’s end.”

  Willem and Geoff tactfully refrained from mentioning the reason those bishoprics had been unoccupied for so long—because Henry collected six thousand pounds a year from the revenues of vacant sees. Henry went on to tell Geoff that he’d written to the Pope, assuring him that the vacancies would be filled as soon as free elections could be held. Geoff nodded politely, trying to hide his boredom. Even though he knew he was destined for a career in the Church, he had little interest in Church matters. If it had been up to him, he’d have chosen knighthood, but he’d been loath to confess this to Henry; he’d do almost anything to avoid disappointing his father.

  At the mention of “free elections,” Willem began to laugh. “It must be said that you have your own interpretation of what ‘free election’ means, my liege. May I tell Geoff about the instructions you sent yesterday to the cathedral chapter at Winchester?”

  When Henry shrugged, Willem turned to Geoff. “Your lord father ordered the monks to hold a free election, and then he added, ‘But I forbid you to accept anyone save my clerk, Richard de Ilchester, Archdeacon of Poitiers.’”

  Geoff grinned and the corner of Henry’s mouth twitched even as he protested that he was merely trying to make sure that there were no misunderstandings. “I am giving the bishopric of Ely to my chancellor, Geoffrey Ridel; he deserves it for his steadfast loyalty during the clash with Becket. I am inclining toward Robert Foliot for Hereford, as he is kin to the Bishop of London.

  That was not a surprise, for the Bishop of London had also given Henry unwavering support against Becket, and Geoff nodded again. But his father’s next words took his breath away. “I mean the bishopric of Lincoln to go to you, lad.”

  “Me? But…but I am not even a priest!”

  “Neither was Becket until two days ere he was consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury.”

  Yes, Geoff thought, and we know how well that turned out. He could not say that, though, to Henry, and he mumbled his thanks with such a lack of enthusiasm that even Henry noticed. The prospect of becoming a bishop was an alarming one to Geoff, but he was an optimist both by nature and experience, and he was soon consoling himself that his consecration could be delayed for months, even years. He could argue with perfect truth that he was too young to hold such an exalted position.

  Once he was in his chamber in the keep, Henry washed and changed his hunting clothes, all the while giving some thought to Geoff’s muted response. Geoff was usually so high-spirited and exuberant, grateful for the smallest favor. Mayhap he felt overwhelmed by the honor. He would have to talk to the lad, reassure him that he was worthy of it. He was bantering with his squires, who were delighted to see him so cheerful, when a knock sounded at the door.

  After a whispered exchange in the stairwell, Warin glanced back at Henry. “It is the Archbishop of Rouen, my liege.” Not waiting to be told, he stepped back so Rotrou could enter, for he knew how impatiently Henry had been awaiting his return from Paris.